Here's the story behind the 86’ jersey: Designers travelled 120 days a year and created one of history's most iconic football jerseys

37 years ago, Birgit Leitner and Anne-Mette Ernst designed Denmark's iconic national team jersey from the 1986 World Cup, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful football jerseys ever. In relation to hummel's 100th birthday and the relaunch of the jersey that the national team will wear on Friday night in the match against Northern Ireland, for the first time, the two designers tell the story of how, based on 120 travel days a year, they found the inspiration for one of the history's most recognised jersey designs in a sewing room in Hørning.

In 1986, the two designers Anne-Mette Ernst and Birgit Leitner created Denmark's new Danish national team jersey ahead of the World Cup in Mexico. A jersey that today is legendary and considered to be one of football history's most iconic jersey designs. 

As part of hummel's 100th anniversary, the jersey has been relaunched and will be worn by the Danish national team for the European Championship qualifier against Northern Ireland on 16 June in Parken. 

Now, the two Danish designers tell the story behind the jersey for the first time.

"It's great to see that the design is still being used today. As a designer, you never count on anything, and even though we knew it was significantly different, it was certainly not what we had expected 37 years ago when we stood in the sewing room at the office in Hørning and made the jersey," says Birgit Leitner.

Birgit Leitner (70) and Anne Mette Ernst (65) worked as freelancers at hummel in 1986 and were the only designers in the house. Therefore, the two women were behind all the football jersey designs throughout the 80s, including designs for Real Madrid, Tottenham, Aston Villa – and the Danish national teams.

"We designed the jersey the same way as we did with all other football jerseys back then. Of course, we knew it had to be red and white, but it was about sitting with the fabric samples in our hands that we had in the office, putting them together in different ways and making it work like a jersey. Fortunately, we had a roll of striped fabric lying around, which we tried to use, and it ended up working very well," says Birgit Leitner.

Travel days and international awards

Despite being designed in 1986, the jersey continues to achieve great recognition in football circles and has won several international awards as one of the most iconic in history. Most recently, the major global football media, FourFourTwo, has in a significant award awarded the jersey with the award the most beautiful football jersey ever.   

Just as the jersey still goes around the world today, it was also on trips abroad that Birgit Leitner and Anne Mette Ernst found the inspiration for the design of the 86’ jersey. 

"We travelled the world to get inspiration for the next jersey design, and I would estimate that we had around 120 travel days a year. Back then, we made all the samples ourselves in the sewing room in Hørning, and therefore it was necessary for us to travel to the East to buy fabric back home to Denmark. Sometimes we brought home several 100 kilos, but then we had also carefully selected the fabrics that we later used to design the jerseys," says Anne-Mette Ernst.

Unimpressed Morten Olsen

The national team jersey from 1986 received a mixed reception when it was announced before the final tournament in 1986. DBU did not share the two designers' enthusiasm for the jersey, and during the announcement on live TV, the captain Morten Olsen's assessment of the jersey was that he thought it was "different."

"It's no exaggeration to say that it was a source of disagreement – but it's also what can often help make a design special. It takes some people who don't like it before it really becomes popular – and you have to say that you succeeded very well," says Birgit Leitner.

After its announcement on TV, hummel made a larger 86 collection with everything from tracksuits to umbrellas and beach chairs, which exploded in popularity like the national team. 

"In the summer of 1986, we regularly received messages and pictures from fans who had used the design to paint their cars and other wild things. It was crazy. We probably should have licensed it then. Then we would have been rich today," says Anne-Mette Ernst.